Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have unearthed the ruins of a Byzantine-period luxurious estate and a rare rural mosque in Rahat, a predominantly Bedouin city in the Southern District of Israel.
“We uncovered a farmhouse of the Byzantine period that apparently housed Christian farmers and included a fortified tower and rooms with strong walls surrounding a courtyard,” said IAA archaeologist Dr. Oren Shmueli and colleagues.
“On a nearby hilltop, we found estates constructed completely differently. They were built about a hundred years later, in the late 7th to 9th centuries (Early Islamic period).”
“The estate buildings, apparently built by Muslims, were constructed with lines of rooms next to large, open courtyards.”
“Many of the clay-lined ovens in the rooms and courtyards were probably used for cooking food.”
“The walls of these buildings were relatively thin and apparently supported mudbrick walls that have not survived.”
According to the team, the mosque includes a square room and a wall facing the direction of Mecca (qibla), the holy city of Islam.
A niche shaped in a half-circle is located along the center of the wall pointing southwards (mihrab).
“The mosque stands alone on the site and could have been used by several dozen Muslim worshippers, most likely local inhabitants, for prayers,” the researchers said.
The mosque is about 400 m south from a luxurious estate building constructed around a central courtyard.
It includes halls with stone pavement, some paved with marble, and walls decorated with frescos painted in red and yellow.
The remains of fine tableware and glass vessels, some illustrated with drawings of plants and animals, which were revealed in the building, manifest the wealth of its inhabitants.
“The evidence from all of the excavation areas gathered so far: the dwellings, the houses of prayer, the ovens and utensils, sheds light on the beginnings of the historical process that took place in the northern Negev with the introduction of a new religion — the religion of Islam, and new rulership and culture in the region,” the scientists said.
“These were gradually established, inheriting the earlier Byzantine government and the Christian faith that held sway over the land for hundreds of years.”